The Daily Briefing Monday, July 10, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

Jerry Jones is going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in a few weeks, and Jimmie Johnson will be on the program as a presenter.  Just not of Jones. 

 

Here is the full list of enshrinees and presenters:

 

Jerry Jones will be presented by wife Gene Jones.

 

Jason Taylor will be presented by Jimmie Johnson, one of his Dolphins coaches.

 

Kurt Warner will be presented by wife Brenda Warner.

 

LaDainian Tomlinson will be presented by fullback Lorenzo Neal

 

Terrell Davis will be presented by longtime agent Neil Schwartz

 

Morten Andersen picked son Sebastian Andersen, a high school linebacker.

 

Kenny Easley chose his high school coach Tommy Rhodes.

 

– – –

NFL players can’t help but be jealous over the amazing guaranteed millions lavished on NBA players (and MLB for that matter).  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com explains why guarantees and the NFL just don’t work.

 

The annual NBA free agency period has renewed calls for fully-guaranteed contracts in the NFL. So let’s dust off concepts I’ve probably articulated in the past, but am too lazy or ill-equipped to locate.

 

Before doing that, remember this:  One finite slice of NFL contracts has become fully or mostly guaranteed. Specifically, the deals given to all first-round draft picks carry millions each year in guaranteed pay. For the first 20 or so players who are picked, every penny of the four-year contract is fully guaranteed at signing.

 

Beyond that, players and teams are free to negotiate guaranteed pay for all or part of a contract. The best players routinely get full guarantees for two or three years at the most. If, as a practical matter, the NFL were ever to commit to fully-guaranteed contracts on an across-the-board basis, few contracts would be longer than two or three years in duration.

 

Currently, it makes little sense for players to commit beyond two or three years. In the later, non-guaranteed years of the deal, the team has the ability to tear up the contract or to squeeze the player to take less. So if the team doesn’t leverage the player to take less (or flat-out dump him), it’s fair to conclude that the team regards the balance of the contract as a very good one for the organization — and necessarily not a good one for the player.

 

So, basically, the adoption of fully-guaranteed contracts for all NFL players would result in, for most players, shorter contracts. Which would be good for players not only because they’d be getting guaranteed contracts but also because they’d have more opportunities to push their way to the open market.

 

Here’s another problem with long-term fully-guaranteed contracts in the NFL. With a salary cap firmly in place, teams would be required to continue to devote space to players who are no longer deemed to be worth the investment, at the expense of other players who are viewed as being in a better position to thrive. It’s another reason why teams would push for short-term deals, if forced to guarantee the full duration of each contract.

 

Then there’s the funding issue, which started as a shield for players but eventually became a sword for the teams. Due to concerns about cash flow and liquidity, the NFL Players Association insisted years ago on payment into escrow of fully-guaranteed amounts, so that the money would be available when the player is due to receive it. Cash flow and liquidity are no longer concerns in the modern NFL, but teams routinely refuse to commit large future sums on a fully-guaranteed basis because of the outdated funding rule.

 

Could some players currently secure deals that include significant guarantees in future years? Yes, with franchise quarterbacks (who tend to both stay healthy and continue to be franchise quarterbacks) leading the way.

 

To date, the closest any veteran player has come to a fully-guaranteed contract beyond three years was Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, whose fully-guaranteed $60 million over the first three years includes rolling guarantees in 2018, 2019, and 2020 that vest if he’s on the roster on the first day of each league year. It means that he’ll either get the money in 2018, 2019, and 2020, or he’ll get a ticket to the market at a time when the market still has real money in it.

 

If the Dolphins had been required to fully-guarantee all six years of the contract, chances are that it wouldn’t have been a six-year deal.

 

With football being the ultimate meritocracy, a system that encourages shorter-term deals may be the best outcome for players who hope to parlay merit into pay. Regardless, that’s the most likely consequence of fully-guaranteed contracts — shorter deals and, in turn, more opportunities for players to sign new ones.

– – –

Andy Benoit says QB greatness isn’t always at the top of the draft:

 

There have been 79 quarterbacks drafted with a top-20 pick since 1970. Only one of those QBs, Peyton Manning, has been name first-team All-Pro more than once. And only five others have earned the honor even once: Cam Newton, Matt Ryan, Jim Kelly, Bert Jones and Terry Bradshaw.

 

So that’s 47 total years and 47 such awards.  PEYTON MANNING has 7 and the other five mentioned above account for a total of 12 years for top 10 draftees.

 

The other 35 years were covered most prominently by Dan Marino (3), Joe Montana (3), Steve Young (3, but kind of a number one from the supplemental draft) and Brett Favre (3).  Bob Griese, Tom Brady, Kurt Warner, Aaron Rodgers, Rich Gannon, Bert Jones and Bob Griese have 2.

 

The best QBs never to win a First Team AP All-Pro Award?  We don’t see Troy Aikman, Ben Roethlisberger, Roger Staubach, Terry Bradshaw and, big surprise, John Elway.

 

Randall Cunningham, Ken Anderson and Boomer Esiason might be somewhat surprising to be included.

 

Take a look – asterisks are HOFers.

 

1970    John Brodie    

1971    Bob Griese*   

1972    Earl Morrall    

1973    John Hadl       

1974    Ken Stabler*   

1975    Fran Tarkenton*         

1976    Bert Jones      

1977    Bob Griese*   

1978    Terry Bradshaw*        

1979    Dan Fouts*     

1980    Brian Sipe      

1981    Ken Anderson

1982    Dan Fouts*     

1983    Joe Theismann          

1984    Dan Marino*   

1985    Dan Marino*   

1986    Dan Marino*   

1987    Joe Montana*

1988    Boomer Esiason        

1989    Joe Montana*

1990    Joe Montana*

1991    Jim Kelly*       

1992    Steve Young* 

1993    Steve Young* 

1994    Steve Young* 

1995    Brett Favre*   

1996    Brett Favre*   

1997    Brett Favre*   

1998    Randall Cunningham 

1999    Kurt Warner*  

2000    Rich Gannon  

2001    Kurt Warner*  

2002    Rich Gannon  

2003    Peyton Manning         

2004    Peyton Manning         

2005    Peyton Manning         

2006    Drew Brees    

2007    Tom Brady     

2008    Peyton Manning         

2009    Peyton Manning         

2010    Tom Brady     

2011    Aaron Rodgers           

2012    Peyton Manning         

2013    Peyton Manning         

2014    Aaron Rodgers           

2015    Cam Newton  

2016    Matt Ryan      

 

NFC NORTH

 

CHICAGO

Brian Urlacher wants you to know that it has become obvious Lovie Smith was a better coach than most thought he was:

 

“I like to say it’s the Lovie Curse. Because since he left, (the Bears have struggled). He got fired being 10-6. I think they fire him either way. Even if we go to the playoffs, I think they fire him. I don’t think the GM liked the way he coached the football team. The guy’s a winner. I love playing for him. I don’t know what the identity of that team is. They sign (Mike) Glennon, then they draft a kid No. 2. I don’t know what (they’re doing). It’s confusing.”

 

—Brian Urlacher, on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney Show, on the identity and struggles of his former team.

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News reports on a forgotten part of NFL history – that Donald Trump once had a chance to MCGA – Make the Cowboys Great Again.

 

What if Donald Trump made a different business decision back in the 1980s? Instead of becoming President of the United States, would he be the owner of the Dallas Cowboys?

 

Without the Cowboys, would Jerry Jones have gone on to star in a reality TV show and then become the 45th President of the United States?

 

We’ll never know.

 

But Trump said in a 1984 interview with The New York Times that he had the opportunity.

 

“I could have bought an NFL team,” Trump said, via the Cowboys Wire. “There were three or four available — that still are available, including, of course, the Dallas Cowboys.

 

“I could have bought an NFL club for $40 million or $50 million, but it’s established and you would just see it move laterally. Not enough to create there.”

 

But Trump didn’t stop there.

 

“I feel sorry for the poor guy who is going to buy the Dallas Cowboys,” Trump said. “It’s a no-win situation for him, because if he wins, well, so what, they’ve won through the years, and if he loses, which seems likely because they’re having troubles, he’ll be known to the world as a loser.”

 

Bum Bright bought the Cowboys from Clint Murchison in 1984 for $85 million.

Jones ended up purchasing the franchise from Bright in 1989 for $140 million. The Cowboys went on to win three Super Bowls in the next seven seasons.

 

Forbes now estimates the Cowboys are the most valuable sports franchise in the world, worth around $4 billion.

 

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

Some trash talk may enliven the August 26th preseason tilt for bragging rights in the Big Apple.  Connor Hughes at NJ.com:

 

Is it too early for preseason drama?

 

No. No it is not.

 

It looks like Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor won’t be the only ones exchanging blows on Aug. 26. Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson has apparently put the “red dot” on Giants guard Justin Pugh a month before their annual exhibition game. 

 

Why? Because apparently Wilkerson didn’t like how Pugh talked about the Jets. Here’s the play-by-play:

 

On Friday, Pugh tweeted this: “At the airport and I forgot a hat. They only have @nyjets hats. All of them untouched. Literally not one @Giants hat left…Wonder why?”

 

So, Wilkerson responded with this: “lol bro now u got the red dot see you 8/26 a MetLife.”

 

Juicy.

 

If there’s a positive to take out such meaningless trash talk , it’s that Wilkerson appears to have his bravado back. The former Pro Bowl defensive end is coming off a putrid season. In 2016, he had just 58 tackles and 4.5 sacks.

– – –

WR BRANDON MARSHALL on the brain power of ELI MANNING:

 

“A lot of people kill Eli—and I’ve been one to look back and kind of have fun with it a few times, too—but he always has this face. People are like, ‘Why is he always looking like that?’ And I truly believe it’s because he’s always thinking. Like he is one of the smartest guys I’ve been around. And I’ve been around some smart quarterbacks. [Ryan] Fitzpatrick, extremely smart. Even Jay Cutler, extremely smart. Eli Manning, I’ve never seen anything like this guy. His brain never stops.”

 

And here is DT DAMON HARRISON, also in awe of Eli as monitored by Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

During a Monday appearance on NFL Network, Harrison was asked about Giants quarterback Eli Manning failing to make the network’s list, voted on by players, of the Top 100 players in football. Harrison said it “makes no sense” that so many players were rated ahead of Manning, although he said he’d vote himself out rather than make a comment about Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott being No. 14 after his rookie season.

 

Harrison went on to explain that he thinks Manning gets taken for granted, something he feels is also the case for Cavaliers star LeBron James.

 

“Eli, when you look at Eli, it’s kind of like when you look at LeBron,” Harrison said. “I’m not saying they’re the same, but look at Eli’s numbers. Any other quarterback would have those numbers it would be an amazing year, but, it being Eli, no one is respecting it much like we do LeBron. LeBron could average 30 [points], 15 rebounds and 12 assists and it’s like ‘he didn’t do enough.’ I don’t know what’s the deal.”

 

Manning’s numbers were down a bit from 2014 and 2015, but he still threw for more than 4,000 yards and completed at least 62 percent of his passes for the third straight year. The Giants offense as a whole was underwhelming, however, and Manning, like all starting quarterbacks, takes a hit when that’s the case.

 

It may not be quite the same as teaming up with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, but the Giants hope adding wide receiver Brandon Marshall and tight end Evan Engram helps the offense rebound in 2017. If it does, Manning’s stock will likely do the same even if the numbers don’t look all that different.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

NEW ORLEANS

If you judge your QBs on pure stats, then DREW BREES is, or at least soon will be, the GOAT.  Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

When Brett Favre retired after 20 NFL seasons, he owned the career record for completions, with 6,300, a total that looked out of reach for any active player. But the record is now within reach of Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who could break the record this season.

 

With 5,836 career completions, Brees is behind only Peyton Manning (6,125) and Favre. If Brees completes 465 passes this season, he’ll break Favre’s record. That’s definitely doable for Brees, who completed 471 passes last year.

 

The 38-year-old Brees also has a good chance of breaking Manning’s records for career yards and touchdowns, although he’ll need two more seasons to do that: He’s 5,829 yards behind Manning and 74 touchdowns behind Manning.

 

If he has two more good years, then by the time Brees turns 40 he will own all of the major NFL career passing records. For as good as fans know Brees is, he may actually be underrated as one of the all-time greats.

 

Brees gives us a rare chance to consider how much coaching may impact QB performance.  He started for four seasons in San Diego and performed at a level we will call “good.”  Then he joined New Orleans in 2006 and now has 11 seasons in Sean Payton’s system (one without Payton actually present).  His numbers jumped in ’06 and have remained consistently elevated since.

 

His typical season in San Diego – 3,345 yards, 22 TDs, 15 INTs, 84.7 rating.

 

His typical season in New Orleans – 4,944 yards, 35 TDs, 15 INTs, 99.3 rating.

 

Both of the above numbers are pro-rated for 16 games per season.

 

Averaging about 15.5 starts over 15 years, let’s look at his actual combined numbers, vs. 16 seasons of numbers at the San Diego level, vs. numbers if he had played all 16 seasons at the New Orleans level.

 

                                             PASS YARDS                TDS            INTs       RATING

At San Diego level                  49,020                          322            220          84.7

ACTUAL                                 66,111                          465            220           96.3

All at New Orleans level         72,454                          513            220           99.3

 

So if Brees had spent 15 seasons QBing at his San Diego level, he’d have thrown for 17,000 fewer yards and 143 fewer TDs. 

 

That level by the way is just a little less than ELI MANNING (avg 16-game season  3,838, 25 TDs, 17 INTs, 83.7 rating) or maybe ANDY DALTON (avg 16-game season 3,822, 24 TDs, 14 INTs, 89.1 rating) or JOE FLACCO (avg 16-game season 3,784, 21 TDs, 14 INTs, 84.5 rating).

 

What about the consensus GOAT, TOM BRADY?  His typical 16-game season is:

 

Brady                  4,175 yards, 31 TDs, 10 INT, 97.2 rating

 

Meanwhile, Frank Schwab of YahooSports.com thinks that Brees will have his numbers dialed down a bit in 2017.

 

There are worse plans than relying on Drew Brees to do everything year after year.

 

My respect for Brees has been well noted – in short, he checks every box as an obvious top-10 all-time quarterback and he’s probably top five – and he’s not slowing down. He has won five of the last six passing titles, and when he didn’t win he had 5,162 yards and was beaten out by Peyton Manning’s insane MVP season. Brees has five 5,000-yard seasons. Every other quarterback in the 97-year history of the NFL has four combined. He’s criminally underrated by some and at least moderately underrated by most.

 

However, maybe it would be OK if Brees didn’t lead the league in passing this season. That hasn’t been working lately.

 

In the NFL, if you have a great coach and quarterback, you should be a contender every year. Coach and quarterback are the top two priorities for every NFL team, and third is so far down the list it’s not worth mentioning. Brees is the epitome of a great quarterback. I believe Sean Payton is at least a very good head coach. Yet, the Saints have gone 7-9 four of the past five seasons. There’s a disconnect somewhere.

 

The defense is clearly a problem, and has been for a while. The last four 7-9 seasons the Saints have finished 31st, 28th, 32nd and 31st in total defense. The outlier in the last five years was a totally random fourth-place defensive finish, which paleontologists will study generations from now and not be able to explain.

 

Maybe the defense gets better just because it can’t get worse. Despite Payton’s desire to land quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the draft, the Chiefs moved up to take him instead and the Saints picked cornerback Marshon Lattimore, a steal at No. 11. Last year’s first-round pick, defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, was a steal too. A leg injury limited him to nine games last season, but he played well and could become a star soon. The Saints’ effort to build a defense has to start somewhere.

 

Perhaps a shift on offense could help the defense. The signing of Adrian Peterson and the drafting of Alvin Kamara were curious – most offseason moves for the compulsive Saints can be classified as “curious,” but if there was any plan involved it might signify something. The Saints already had Mark Ingram, a fine back. Peterson, an all-time great back who was the NFL’s rushing leader in 2015, didn’t sign with the Saints to sit on the sidelines watching Ingram. And even though the Saints already had those two, they sent a 2018 second-round pick to move up to take Kamara early in the third round. That’s a steep price to pay, and it tells you how much New Orleans liked Kamara. The Saints have uncontrollable urges when it comes to offseason player additions so maybe there’s no larger plan, but if those moves were based on any logic, it would seem like the Saints are telling us they’d like more run-pass balance this season. Trading receiver Brandin Cooks to the Patriots fits that too. So does the first-round pick of offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk from the University of Wisconsin, which thinks “spread offense” is running outside the tackles instead of inside them.

 

The last three seasons, the Saints have been remarkably consistent with their NFL ranks in passing attempts (second in the league all three seasons) and rushing attempts (19th, 20th, 19th). Maybe with a closer split, there will be less pressure on Brees and the defense won’t be exposed as much. The Saints haven’t had a huge issue with time of possession (their pass-happy offense is exceptionally efficient and stays on the field just fine), but the same old thing isn’t resulting in playoff appearances.

 

Time will soon run out on the Brees-Payton era. It’s hard to say they’ve wasted it, considering they brought a Super Bowl to New Orleans, but it seems like we should have seen them in the playoffs more often. It’s hard to wrap one’s head around the notion that the Saints relying less on their all-time great quarterback could end up producing better results. But maybe we’ll get a chance to find out this season.

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

Andy Benoit of TheMMQB.com has a nice chat with RB DAVID JOHNSON.  Excerpt below:

 

Let’s be honest: intelligence is rarely emphasized when discussing running backs. It’s not because they’re dumb. Ninety nine percent of all NFL players are explicitly not dumb. It’s just that, more than any position save for maybe a man-to-man cover corner, a running back is regarded for his physical traits. Can he break tackles? Make defenders miss? In traffic, can he locate space and then accelerate?

 

Cardinals third-year star David Johnson, who is as rich in these traits as anyone in football, understands. A lot of running “comes from instincts, especially in the heat of the battle, heat of the game, where you don’t have time to think,” Johnson told me over the phone recently. “It’s all reaction.” But a player still must put himself in the right position to react.

 

Johnson does consistently. When he speaks, his football IQ shines through. He explains, in fine detail, how different defensive fronts impact where his eyes go on running plays. He points out that, because of his receiving prowess, he must also read coverages. Those reads differ based on where he lines up. And sometimes his routes are determined by the read.

 

Amidst this talk, Johnson and I got into a discussion about what he describes as Arizona’s “bread and butter” run play. Twenty-three double, they call it. An inside zone run with two tight ends aligned side by side. There are various double-team blocks across the board, depending on the defense’s structure. And, the real kicker: Larry Fitzgerald. The 14th-year receiver motions down, behind the tight ends, and is responsible for blocking one of the second level defenders (either a linebacker or a safety, again depending on the defense’s structure). Johnson described the nuances of this play in a quote long enough to exhaust a person scrolling through it.

 

That description mentioned several things I heard a few weeks ago sitting in on the Rams’ offensive coaches meetings for my 24 Hours with Sean McVay story. Most notably, the importance of the runner keeping his shoulders square. Even if the back is bouncing an inside zone run to the outside, staying square is vital because it influences defenders in ways that give linemen easier blocks. Blockers obviously help a ballcarrier, but a ballcarrier must also help his blockers.

 

I asked Johnson if, growing up, he would he have believed that one day he’d be in the NFL and running a bread and butter play that hinged on the blocks he gets from, of all people, superstar wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald?

 

“It’s definitely hard to believe,” says Johnson. “Every time we’re in practice, every time I see him do what he does, it’s mesmerizing. Sometime I catch myself daydreaming watching him, not really paying attention to what I’m supposed to be doing.”

 

Fitzgerald, of course, has plenty of receiving habits for Johnson, perhaps the game’s best pass-catching back, to emulate. Johnson is a bona fide weapon from anywhere in the formation, be it out of the backfield, in the slot or out wide.

 

“I’m just trying to do better than last year,” Johnson says. “Trying to get 1,000 (yards) receiving, 1,000 rushing. I was close last year.”

 

I ask him where he ranks himself among NFL backs. He said: “I’m definitely going to have to say I feel like I should be number one. If there’s a player in the NFL who doesn’t feel that way, they definitely should not be in the NFL. I feel like I should be number one, especially with the season I had last year, helping out the team. And I still have a lot of room to improve.”

 

The only other player with Johnson’s diversity of skills is Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell, who this spring was slapped with a $12.1 million franchise tag and has one week remaining to figure out a long-term deal with the Steelers. Johnson, of course, has an interest in these negotiations. Bell’s contract will help set the top end of the running back market. Johnson’s deal expires after the 2018 season.

 

“I hope he gets the deal he deserves,” Johnson says. “I hope it’s going to be the type of deal that cornerbacks get and quarterbacks get.”

 

There are problems with Johnson’s situation, which he’s aware of but doesn’t fret about. For starters, he’s simply underpaid. Arguably the most valuable non-quarterback offensive player in football, he has a 2017 salary (including prepaid bonuses) of almost $800,000. In 2018, his salary is just south of $900K. Johnson is worth about 15 times that much. But such is the nature of a rookie contract. Teams who can find stars in the mid-rounds of the draft (Johnson was a third-rounder) gain a huge financial advantage. The player’s second contract eventually corrects things.

 

But this brings us to the second part of Johnson’s problem: he’ll be 27 when negotiating that second contract. For a running back, that’s the back half of middle age. A 27-year-old at any other position is presumed to have five or six years left in his prime. Teams negotiating with Johnson will try to argue that he’ll hit the infamous running back wall at 30, like so many before him. Johnson doesn’t have as much tread on the tires as most backs, but that won’t stop teams from at least initially trying to negotiate this way. They may want to discuss money commensurate with a three- to four-year deal. A running back’s value can get minimized on paper.

 

“That is so true,” Johnson says. “I feel like, especially now, with the running backs we have in this league, we’re going to definitely change the mentality of the running back and those contract deals. We’re going to definitely make it (understood) that running backs are more important than you’d think. Everyone thinks it’s a passing league, but I think running backs are starting to show up and show out and prove that you need a good one to be a capable team.”

 

 

SEATTLE

LB CLIFF AVRIL says reports of an offense-defense split in the Seahawks locker room are #FakeNews.  Bob Condotta in the Seattle Times:

 

Reports of a divided Seahawks’ locker room that have permeated throughout the offseason?

 

Just “fake news” in the words of defensive end Cliff Avril, echoing a theme of every Seahawks player and coach who has been asked about those reports in the last month or so.

 

Avril made that comment Friday during an appearing on the NFL No Huddle show with hosts Nick Ferguson and Brian Webber on TuneIn.

 

Said Avril in a quote transcribed by TuneIn: “I think it’s all fake news. I think it’s all dead. It was a dead period so people needed something to talk about. At the same time too, lets be honest. There are 90 guys in the locker room right now. There is no way that 90 guys are going to always get along. And that’s just what it is. I’m pretty sure there are people at your job right now that’s way less than 90 that don’t get along. That’s just part of it. Now as far as it being Russ (Russell Wilson) and Sherm (Richard Sherman) or Russ and whoever, I don’t think that’s true. I’ve never had any issues with Russ. I don’t think anybody has any issues with Russ. We all want the best for Russ and Russ wants the best for us. That is the only way we are going to succeed. I haven’t seen it. I don’t know what they are referring to. Maybe they know something that I don’t know.”

 

AFC WEST

 

THE RAIDERS

CB GAREON COONEY still sits in legal jeopardy from an incident that did not preclude the Raiders from making him their first round pick.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

It’s been two months and, as of Monday, 10 days since Raiders cornerback Gareon Conley met with police regarding an allegation of sexual assault that emerged in the days prior to the draft. Conley’s lawyer expected an answer within 6-8 weeks after the meeting. As of Monday, 10 weeks will have passed since Conley’s interview with authorities.

 

Late last week, a league source with knowledge of the situation told PFT that there has been no news regarding whether Conley will be charged. Meanwhile, Conley still hasn’t signed a rookie contract, presumably because the Raiders would prefer that he be cleared before they give him a signing bonus of more than $5.5 million along with other guarantees.

 

The clock is starting to tick, fairly loudly. Training camp opens on July 29; this means that, as of Monday, only 19 days will remain before the situation officially becomes a distraction.

 

Conley is entitled to the Constitutional presumption of innocence and all other protections that apply in a court of law. But if the allegation of sexual assault leads to formal charges, the distraction instantly will become a major problem, for Conley, the Raiders, and the NFL.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

TENNESSEE

An update on the legal situations for a pair of Titans players.  Adam Tamburin in The Tennessean:

 

Two months after a pair of Tennessee Titans players were accused of assault in a Nashville man’s lawsuit, the players have filed a counterclaim saying they acted in self-defense.

 

In responses filed along with the counterclaim Friday, Titans wide receiver Tajae Sharpe and offensive lineman Sebastian Tretola call the allegations in Dante R. Satterfield’s lawsuit “a blatant money grab.”

 

Satterfield filed a federal lawsuit against the men in May in which he accused Sharpe of beating him up on April 27, the first night of the NFL draft, outside Tin Roof bar on Demonbreun because Sharpe was upset over the Titans picking another wide receiver, Corey Davis. Tretola served as a lookout during the attack, according to Satterfield’s lawsuit, which was later refiled in Davidson County.

 

Sharpe and Tretola painted a different picture in their responses and filed a counterclaim, accusing Satterfield of “following, harassing and picking a fight” with them “and then crying foul when they have no choice but to defend themselves.”

 

In the counterclaim, the Titans players said Satterfield repeatedly tried to socialize with the men at Tin Roof, even after they asked him to stop. Eventually, the players said, Satterfield “became extremely agitated and belligerent” and threatened the men, saying he was in an area gang.

 

According to the counterclaim, Satterfield followed Sharpe and Tretola after they left the bar, “continuing to shout, curse and threaten” them. Sharpe only punched Satterfield because Satterfield had drawn back to punch him, according to the counterclaim. Afterward, the counterclaim said, Satterfield ran toward Tretola, who threw him against a wall and the ground in an alley.

 

“Sensationalism aside, this case is about a bar fight — about mutual combat — and the loser’s blatant money grab that followed,” Sharpe and Tretola said in their responses.

 

The players’ counterclaim asks a jury to award them money to compensate for Satterfield’s actions. Satterfield’s lawsuit asked a jury to award Satterfield at least $500,000.

 

In an emailed statement, Satterfield’s attorney Alex Little blasted Sharpe for contradicting his agent’s initial statement on the altercation. Sharpe’s agent told The Tennessean in May that his client “unequivocally denies any and all involvement.”

 

“In (Friday’s) court filing, Sharpe changes his story entirely and says he was there but acted in self-defense,” Little said. “We are confident that an impartial jury will be able to make out what happened that night.”

 

The attorneys representing Sharpe and Tretola did not immediately respond to a Saturday afternoon email requesting comment.

 

Nashville police conducted an investigation of the alleged assault. In June, the department was wrapping up the investigation and planned to send their files to the grand jury, which will decide if any criminal charges will be filed in the case.

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW ENGLAND

Andy Benoit of TheMMQB.com catches up with CB STEPHON GILMORE:

 

Imagine one day signing a five-year, $65 million contract with the world champion Patriots and having it be the second biggest thing to happen to you that day. That’s the reality for former Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore.

 

Immediately after signing with the Patriots on March 10, the free agent raced to the airport and caught a flight to Charlotte, where he and his wife Gabrielle make their offseason home. (Gilmore grew up about a half hour away in Rock Hill, S.C.) Gabrielle was in labor with their second child (first daughter), who, coincidentally, would be named Gisele.

 

“I got there at the easy part when she’s pushing and had been numbed with the epidural,” Gilmore said. “I wasn’t there when she was in pain; I was there when she was about to push.”

And has she noted the convenience of your timing?

 

“Oh yeah, she’ll always remember that,” Gilmore laughs. “Luckily her mom was there. She’s a nurse so she took care of her and she was okay. I got back just in time so it wasn’t too bad.”

Merging football life and personal life is nothing to Gilmore. When he and Gabrielle married in July 2014, among the wedding’s groomsmen were Alshon Jeffery, Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney. Add the groom and you have one wedding with four South Carolina Gamecocks turned full-fledged NFL stars. (In describing his wedding party to me, Gilmore listed everyone and then explained, “Melvin, Alshon and Jadeveon are still in the league.” Thank you, Stephon.)

 

Gilmore earned the Patriots payday because he’s a lanky, physical man-to-man corner. That fits New England’s system. In Buffalo, he played a lot of Quarters coverage, which is a matchup zone—emphasis on the matchup part—in Rex Ryan’s defense. “When we were running Cover 4 (i.e. Quarters), it was pretty much man,” Gilmore says. “I mean, that’s how we played it. My technique wouldn’t change, just my leverage would change sometimes, depending on the coverage.”

 

Gilmore played only on the defensive right side in Buffalo. In recent years, the Patriots have matched up their corners. Malcolm Butler, whom Gilmore may have been signed to replace but is back for at least one more year, has traveled with the opponent’s quickest receiver. Logan Ryan, who left for Tennessee in free agency, has traveled with the bigger, more physical receiver. Presumably, Gilmore will assume Ryan’s duties, though part of what got Ryan paid in Tennessee is his ability to cover the slot.

 

In Buffalo, “I didn’t play the slot much,” Gilmore says. He believes he can, though. “I’m pretty sure playing outside is harder. I’ll do whatever the coaches want me to do.”

 

It’s unusual to hear someone argue that covering the slot is easier than covering the perimeter. But on the perimeter, “nobody is out there, you’re on an island most of the time,” says Gilmore. “You are responsible for that third of the field, especially in man-to-man. In the slot, you have to be a little quicker, but now they’re putting bigger receivers in there. You’re closer to the line and closer to the 10 players on the field and you can use that to your advantage.”

 

The Patriots, of course, can never be counted on to do what you expect, so it’s possible their cornerback roles will shift. Gilmore says it hasn’t been decided yet.

 

Or maybe it has and he’s just being mum. Though he’s only been in Foxboro for four months, Gilmore has nearly mastered The Patriot Way. “I don’t want to tell too many of my tricks,” he says. Knowing he won’t be willing to compare Bill Belichick and Rex Ryan on the record, I instead ask how many times he’s been asked to compare the two.

 

“Too many times,” he laughs. “They’re two different guys. Two different personalities. That’s all I can say. Two great coaches.”

 

 

NEW YORK JETS

If the Jets are planning on tanking in 2017 to draft generational QB SAM DARNOLD of USC, their plans may be disappointed by Darnold’s love of Troy and/or aversion to the Jets.  Ari Gilberg of the New York Daily News:

 

Looks like Jets’ fans grand plans to “Suck For Sam” may be on hold.

 

USC quarterback Sam Darnold is mulling returning to school rather than entering the 2018 NFL Draft, according to NFL.com, which could deliver a crushing blow to a Gang Green team desperate for a franchise quarterback.

 

Though Darnold is widely projected as the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft, NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah reports “several sources close to Darnold tell me they wouldn’t be surprised if Darnold played two more seasons at USC.”

 

Darnold, a redshirt sophomore, is eligible to enter the draft after the coming 2017 season. He also has three more years of eligibility and can wait until 2020 to enter the draft.

 

The possibility of not even having the option to draft Darnold would be a cruel twist for a Jets team that has yearned for a franchise quarterback since the days of Joe Namath. It would also be brutally ironic as the Jets seem poised to secure a top pick in the upcoming draft after dumping several high-priced veterans this offseason (David Harris, Eric Decker, etc.)

 

As the potential top overall selection, Darnold — who threw for 3,086 yards, 31 touchdowns and just nine interceptions as a redshirt freshman last season while leading USC to a 9-1 record, including a thrilling win over Penn State in the Rose Bowl — would be passing up millions if he elected to stay in school.

 

Defensive lineman Myles Garrett, the first pick in this year’s draft, recently signed a four-year, $30.4 million deal with the Browns, including a $20.25 million signing bonus.

 

Will Darnold zig while the rest of his peers zag and stay in school? Probably not. But with the Jets’ string of bad luck, anything is possible.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

FORMER PLAYERS

The update on Todd Marinovich, who says he’s clean but still sounds delusional:

 

Former NFL quarterback Todd Marinovich, less than one year after being arrested with drugs while naked, wants to play again and is attempting a comeback at age 48.

 

Sixteen years since he last played for the Los Angeles Avengers of the Arena Football League and after being released by the Los Angeles Raiders in 1993, Marinovich will don the uniform of the SoCal Coyotes of the World Developmental Football League.

 

Marinovich, who served as an assistant coach with the Coyotes last season, said he is “superstoked” to be competing for the starting spot against 25-year-old Jacob Russell when practice begins Aug. 10 in Indio, California.

 

“It’s the greatest game on the planet, and I’ve been away from it for so long, and I can’t think of anything more fun,” he said to reporters Friday, according to the Desert Sun. “Recovery has changed every aspect of my life and made it better, so why wouldn’t that carry over to the football field?”

 

The WDFL consists of 16 teams on the East Coast, four on the West Coast and four in South Africa. The league’s mission is to “develop players, coaches and staff so they can advance to the next level.”

 

Marinovich said Friday that he’s been sober since the 2016 arrest, when he was found naked in a backyard holding a brown bag containing marijuana and methamphetamine. He was cited for trespassing, possession of a controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of marijuana.

 

He will avoid jail time if he stays out of legal trouble for 36 months.

 

“I can’t really take credit for anything,” he told reporters Friday. “The only thing that I was given was the gift of desperation, which it takes to get started. And I am a work in progress. God works in ways that I never really saw until I moved to the desert. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I just knew I needed help and that I couldn’t do it alone.”

 

 

2018 DRAFT

Adam Schein of NFL.com kills some time ranking the divisions by the quality of their quarterbacks:

 

They say the NFL is a quarterback-driven league. And “they” are right.

 

So, which division is driven by the best quarterbacks? That’s a fine question. Allow me to provide a divisional hierarchy through the prism of the game’s most important position. Which division boasts the finest collection of quarterbacks? The least inspiring? See below!

 

NOTE: Quarterbacks listings within each division are presented alphabetically by team.

 

1) NFC South

Atlanta Falcons: Matt Ryan

Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton

New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jameis Winston

 

No debate in the No. 1 spot: The NFC South’s QB quartet is in a league of its own right now. Ryan is fresh off a sensational MVP season and is set up for greatness again in 2017. Newton took home the hardware the year before and boasts one of the rarest skill sets in the NFL today. Brees has more 5,000-yard seasons (five) than every other quarterback in NFL history combined (Dan Marino, Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford and Peyton Manning each have one). He’s Canton bound … yet still terrorizing defenses in his late 30s. And with the weapons Tampa Bay added this offseason, Winston is poised for a true breakout as he guides the Bucs back to the postseason. It’s not hard to imagine any of these four QBs making an MVP push in 2017.

 

2) NFC East

Dallas Cowboys: Dak Prescott

New York Giants: Eli Manning

Philadelphia Eagles: Carson Wentz

Washington Redskins: Kirk Cousins

 

You could start a riot debating the individual rankings of these four signal callers, which speaks volumes about the division. Dak was absolutely fantastic in Year 1, winning Offensive Rookie of the Year and guiding Dallas to the playoffs. And the best is yet to come. I still think Wentz is going to be a star. Last year was about a learning curve. Now, with Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith in the fold, Wentz’s development will really kick into gear. Eli Manning is Eli Manning. The two-time Super Bowl MVP is tough and clutch and still great. And Cousins has become a big-time, reliable starter in Washington. I’ve argued for years that the former fourth-round pick deserves a new contract and should be treated like a franchise quarterback.

 

3) AFC West

Denver Broncos: Trevor Siemian/Paxton Lynch

Kansas City Chiefs: Alex Smith

Los Angeles Chargers: Philip Rivers

Oakland Raiders: Derek Carr

 

Carr received my Associated Press vote for MVP last season. He’s a bona fide star who is only going to get better. That $125 million extension was a no-brainer. I think Carr will guide the Raiders to a home playoff game in Oakland this season. Rivers remains elite, and the future Hall of Famer finally got help from his organization this offseason, with the Bolts boosting the receiver position and offensive line. I love Alex Smith. I know the limitations and playoff record. I also know I’m winning 10 games with him. Denver’s the wild card, but I think Lynch — a former first-round pick — should start. Siemian was solid last year, but Lynch can provide Denver with the upside and talent it needs at quarterback.

 

4) NFC North

Chicago Bears: Mike Glennon/Mitchell Trubisky

Detroit Lions: Matthew Stafford

Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers

Minnesota Vikings: Sam Bradford

 

Rodgers is the best quarterback in the NFL today. And Stafford was a true MVP candidate for most of last season. In my opinion, Stafford enjoyed his finest pro campaign by rocking steady and displaying quite the clutch gene in his first year without Calvin Johnson. While injuries are always a question with Bradford, he deserves so much credit for being a really good player (SEE: NFL-leading 71.6 percent completion rate) and quick study last year after Minnesota picked him up on Labor Day weekend from Philly. I like Mike Glennon more than most. And while I loathed the Trubisky trade-up, the rookie has talent.

 

5) AFC East

Buffalo Bills: Tyrod Taylor

Miami Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill

New England Patriots: Tom Brady

New York Jets: ???

 

The Jets’ QB question must be answered by either Josh McCown, Christian Hackenberg or Bryce Petty. Translation: The Jets have the worst quarterback situation in the NFL. On the flip side, Brady is the G.O.A.T. I like Taylor and always have — and the Bills will function like an actual football team with a new head coach. I’m excited to watch Taylor this year. Adam Gase is a quarterback whisperer in Miami — and a now healthy Tannehill is understandably excited about the team’s weapons and upside in 2017. Gase will continue to bring the best out of his 28-year-old field general.

 

6) AFC North

Baltimore Ravens: Joe Flacco

Cincinnati Bengals: Andy Dalton

Cleveland Browns: ???

Pittsburgh Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger

 

Big Ben is a Hall of Famer with a loaded offense — and yes, he’s still at the top of his game. Cleveland, on the other hand, is best served turning to Brock Osweiler — which says something about something. I do think DeShone Kizer can play — eventually. Hue Jackson can help both, and so can a vastly improved offensive line. Flacco needs some help at running back and will have a new cast of characters at receiver. I believe Jeremy Maclin can provide a boost. And you trust Flacco in big spots. Dalton always puts up numbers in the regular season. Prime-time Andy is a different story. And over the past few offseasons, Cincy has lost a bunch of talent at receiver and along the offensive line.

 

7) AFC South

Houston Texans: Deshaun Watson

Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck

Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles

Tennessee Titans: Marcus Mariota

 

In theory, this group could end up in the No. 8 spot. I love Luck, Mariota and Watson. But Luck currently can’t throw a football. That’s a problem. Bortles can’t throw a football — and he’s completely healthy. Also a problem. I’m not even messing around with Tom Savage here. Watson was rightly drafted to start. And he should. I love the fit. But he’s still a rookie. Assuming Mariota’s healthy, I anticipate another strong year from the Titans signal caller.

 

8) NFC West

Arizona Cardinals: Carson Palmer

Los Angeles Rams: Jared Goff

San Francisco 49ers: Brian Hoyer

Seattle Seahawks: Russell Wilson

 

Hoyer is a nice guy — but a backup. Yes, he’s very familiar with Kyle Shanahan’s offense, but he’s just not a legit NFL starting quarterback. Goff was dreadful last season. I think Sean McVay can maximize him, but it’s a work in progress. Palmer could be close to retirement. And while the Cardinals QB has enjoyed some fine regular seasons in his career, do you trust him in playoff games? Not even Wilson can save this group. Heck, Russ is coming off a down season, at least by his lofty standard. Part of that was injuries and another part was shoddy O-line play, but Wilson posted the worst passer rating (92.6) of his NFL career. He needs the offensive line and run game to step up in 2017.

 

We would put the AFC North ahead of the AFC East.

 

We couldn’t tell you who the worst QB is in the NFC South, maybe Winston because of his shorter term in the league.  But he’s still pretty good.

 

In all the other divisions, there is clearly a team (or two) a step below the others.